Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge said Thursday morning he envisions a world where the Anniston and Oxford metro area is no longer considered one of the most dangerous in the state.
“How many of you are tired of seeing the Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville metro area as being the number one crime area in the state? Well, so are we,” Partridge said after about 50 people raised their hands.
Patridge, speaking before the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the Cities conference, announced that the city of Oxford plans to build a Metro Area Crime Center behind City Hall. The center, the chief said, will facilitate better communication between law enforcement agencies not only in Calhoun County, but also in our region.
While Oxford will build the approximately $3 million building, the plan is to supplement some of the cost for equipment through grants from federal and state agencies, Oxford Mayor Alton Craft said.
Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis, a former Anniston police officer, said the cities will likely apply for grants together.
“You have a bigger presence and a higher chance of being awarded grants if you present a proposal as a united front,” Willis said of the cities. “I’m all about this idea.”
Jefferson County opened the state’s first metro area crime center in October 2016, Capt. David Thompson with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said on Thursday. For the past several months, Oxford has sent an officer to the center for two days a week, Thompson said.
“They’re learning our system so when they open it’ll be a seamless transition,” he said. “I applaud them for taking this step for the community. Once it’s online we’ll have a link to east Alabama and they’ll have a link to the Birmingham area.”
Agencies involved can staff a full-time or part-time officer or deputy at the center to act as a liaison between the department and the center, Partridge said. Any information about any active situation or cases can be filtered through the liaison to other departments’ liaisons if necessary.
Thompson, the Jefferson County center’s commander, said it was created to target robberies, burglaries, car break-ins and thefts, he said.
“We’ve seen a definite decrease in those specifically, and an overall 10 percent decrease in crimes,” he said.
Partridge said Thursday afternoon that he hopes to target gun crimes, which could elevate the crime to the federal level if the suspect is already a convicted felon.
The building will serve as a data center and a video intelligence hub, where officers from any of the participating agencies can access information about cases that may cross jurisdiction lines.
“We have cameras set up all across Oxford that help us monitor the city,” the chief said. “If we can get those across Calhoun County, it would revolutionize how we fight crime together. Criminals know no bounds, and that includes city limits.”
For smaller agencies, like the Piedmont Police Department, the center will provide opportunities to access technology that they’d otherwise be unable to afford, Chief Freddie Norton said.
“Anything that’s going to benefit the area, I’m for it 100 percent,” Norton said. “I don’t know a lot of the details, but I’ve heard some things that are supposed to happen with it, things we’ll be able to do that we can’t now, and it all sounds great to me.”
Thompson said the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office pays the bill for the technology while the 19 other agencies involved owe nothing. The cooperation can also save larger agencies from paying for the same software.
“Anniston is paying a yearly fee for a software to do background checks, and so does Oxford, but they could partner together and save money,” the commander said. “It’d be one bill instead of three. It’s a cost savings for any agency to be in the center, but it’s also a net gain with the sharing of intelligence.”
Partridge said Oxford will do the same as Jefferson County and handle the operating expenses once the center opens. All the agencies involved have to do is provide an officer or deputy, and if they can’t “the center is still open and available for their use,” Partridge said.
Currently, Norton said, his investigators work with those of other agencies nearly every day.
“We share a lot of information now, but we also have to reach out for help on some things, too,” he said. “This is just going to make it a lot easier for everyone.”
The goal, Partridge said, is to be more proactive.
“This is not just to help one city or the county, but to help the entire region,” Partridge said. “And we’re going to do it by sharing information and technology.”
After Jefferson County opened its center, property crimes decreased by 21 percent in the first year, Partridge said.
“That’s a big drop,” he said. “If you can get the little things out of here the big things go away, I promise you.”